Six AGs Sue EPA Over Decision to Allow Dangerous Neurotoxin in Food

Trump administration has declined to place a ban chlorpyrifos, a toxic pesticide that is dangerous for infants and young children.

EPA is unlawfully continuing its “years-long pattern of delay” in addressing the dangers posed by chlorpyrifos, a known neurotoxin with decades of documented health risks.


August 7, 2019
Contact: Christopher Gray

Washington, D.C. — New York Attorney General Letitia James led a coalition of six state attorneys general in filing a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) challenging the agency’s refusal to ban the use of chlorpyrifos on food crops. Chlorpyrifos is a toxic pesticide used on more than 80 food crops, and has been shown to negatively impact brain development and the functioning of the central nervous system.
“Chlorpyrifos is extremely dangerous, especially to the health of our children,” said Attorney General James. “Yet, the Trump Administration continues to ignore both the science and law, by allowing this toxic pesticide to contaminate food at unsafe levels. If the Trump EPA won’t do its job and protect the health and safety of New Yorkers, my office will take them to court and force them to fulfill their responsibilities.” 
The EPA’s decision not to ban chlorpyrifos dates back to an order filed by then-Administrator Scott Pruitt, who issued an order delaying any decision by the agency until 2022 just before he resigned. State AGs sued the agency to overturn the decision, leading to a court order from the Ninth Circuit that the EPA should ban the toxic pesticide in August 2018. The EPA appealed that decision, and was ordered to make a determination on chlorpyrifos within 90 days in April 2019.
The EPA’s decision, which kicks the can down the road and calls for the completion of more research before making a decision whether to ban chlorpyrifos on food crops, is yet another delay tactic that puts farm workers and consumers in harm’s way. An extensive scientific record already shows that there is no safe threshold of exposure to chlorpyrifos, which has been shown to cause developmental issues for infants and children. 
“The Trump administration is jeopardizing the health and safety of children across this country, and they are doing so without any plausible scientific justification,” said David J. Hayes, Executive Director of the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center. “State attorneys general have already won a decisive legal victory over the EPA’s unlawful attempt at delaying a decision on this issue, and they are well situated to prevail once again.” 
The attorneys general of California, Washington, Massachusetts, Maryland and Vermont joined New York in filing the lawsuit. The attorneys general of Hawaii and Washington, D.C. will be filing a motion to intervene to join the lawsuit tomorrow.


In 2015, in response to a 2007 petition and the initiation of litigation by public health groups, the EPA issued a proposed rule banning the use chlorpyrifos on food crops because of concern about its harmful impacts on human health. In March 2017, then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt reversed course, denying the petition and withdrawing the proposed rule.
In June 2017, a coalition of seven state attorneys general filed an administrative objection to the EPA's petition denial and the withdrawal of the 2015 proposed rule. The next month, six attorneys general filed a motion to intervene in League of United Latin American Citizens et al., a lawsuit brought by public health groups challenging the reversal. The attorneys general of California and Hawaii successfully intervened in the lawsuit in March 2018.
In August 2018, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued an opinion in League that directed the EPA to once again move forward with the proposed rule, finding that there was no justification for the agency’s reversal. The EPA filed a request for en banc review, which was granted in February 2019; oral arguments were held in March 2019. In April 2019, the en bancpanel of the Ninth Circuit released an order requiring the EPA to respond within 90 days to the 2017 administrative objection. In July 2019, the EPA issued a final order denying the petition.

The State Energy & Environmental Impact Center is a non-partisan Center at the NYU School of Law that is dedicated to working with state attorneys general to protect and advance clean energy, climate change, and environmental values and protections. It was launched in August 2017 with support from Bloomberg Philanthropies. For more information, visit our website.